Ayudame, hablo espanol como un mono!
July 17, 2012 6:00 AM   Subscribe

What would be the best way for someone to develop / re-learn Spanish in four months or so of part-time study?

I took five years of Spanish many long years ago, so I was never exactly fluent. I still remember the basic rules of conjugation for at least three tenses and have a smattering of vocabulary words at my disposal. In the intervening years, I occasionally have travelled to Spanish-speaking countries and I find that within about two weeks, I'm able to communicate more or less effectively. Somehow I pick up the cadence and vocabulary fairly quickly, such that I progress from caveman sentences and catching just a word here or there of normal spoken Spanish, to at least a child-like level of operation. Unfortunately, two weeks is almost always the duration of my trips, so I acquire this ability pretty much just when I don't need it any more. I'm heading to Peru in a few months and it would be really nice to get a jump start on the process now. There is a tiny bit of pressure because my spouse is responsible for handling French translation when we travel and I'm on the hook for Spanish and she always does so brilliantly and I'm clearly the weak link in our translation team.

I've started a language CD, but its oriented for complete novices, so other than reminding me of vocubulary here and there, it seems like it doesn't give me the rewards per unit time I'd prefer.

Do foreign language teachers take on tutoring, where I could pay them to talk to me for an hour or so in the evenings after work? I feel like conversation, however primitive, might be the key to why I progress more quickly when I'm surrounded by Spanish. How would I find these folks?

Are there any online or CD-based language programs focused for people like me, who really just have high school kinda Spanish? I feel like even generous tips don't really compensate the waiter for subjecting him to my attempts, and it doesn't really cover a lot of ground. As a practical matter, I'm more concerned with being able to navigate typical tourist kinda conversations than actual fluency, but it is always nice to be able to actually talk about ideas.
posted by Lame_username to Education (9 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
Immersion is the best way to do this. Go to a part of your down where folks mostly speak Spanish and start talking to people.

Perhaps you can arrange a conversation swap, a Spanish speaker can help you with Spanish and you can reciprocate by speaking English.

When my folks were stationed in Japan, they taught an English class and then one night a week had people over for coffee and chatting. It was awesome!

My favorite phrase in Spanish?

Cafe con leche sin azucar, por favor.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:03 AM on July 17, 2012

Best answer: Choose-your-own-adventure books in spanish might help. They're available online, and almost all have english versions also (in case you need a direct translation). The fact that you need to make active choices in them means that you can't just skip by sections you don't understand, unlike traditional reading.
posted by wolfdreams01 at 6:28 AM on July 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

You might want to watch Spanish-language TV with the subtitles enabled in Spanish.
posted by jgirl at 7:19 AM on July 17, 2012

Are there meetup groups in your area for people who want to practice conversational Spanish? I've never been to any around me, but from their description, it sounds like there are Spanish-speaking people who attend who want to help others learn, so you won't just be practicing with people who know even less than you.
posted by never.was.and.never.will.be. at 7:41 AM on July 17, 2012

Tutoring is a great idea if you don't mind spending a little money on this project. My son worked with a Portuguese tutor for an hour a week, for about 18 months, and in that time was able to achieve a level of fluency similar to what one would expect from 3 or 4 years of classroom instruction in that time.

A good tutor will start right where you are and can build on what you already know, focusing on the areas that are of most interest to you and giving you exercises etc. to work on during the rest of the week to maximize your exposure and practice.

One little thing I find that helps me maintain my speaking fluency (I work with written Spanish constantly but I don't verbalize it that often) is to read the newspaper or magazines out loud.
posted by drlith at 7:51 AM on July 17, 2012

This Lifehacker post on how to learn a language in 90 days might be helpful. There are links on how to find a tutor and partners.
posted by I am the Walrus at 8:15 AM on July 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

I go to Meetup-type events organised by a Spanish school here in Glasgow, they are very motivational for me. Sometimes I have also supplemented this by having Skype sessions with a Spanish tutor via Italki.com, these have compared well on price with seeing a tutor in person and no need to spend time getting to and from them so they fit into a schedule easier. I am sure there are other providers who will also offer tuturing by Skype. I have some Spanish intercambio contacts via MyLanguageExchange.com but find I get lazy and talk in English most of the time with them, since their level of English is much better than my Spanish as they've been at it for years. At least with a paid tutor I am talking 100% in Spanish and don't feel bad about taking up their time asking noob questions.

Good luck, Spanish is a fun language and opens a whole new world to you!
posted by AuroraSky at 8:38 AM on July 17, 2012

Best answer: Oh I am literally doing this right now, and I'm heading to Peru in December. Give me a full day in a Spanish-speaker's company with no English and I'm conversational again, but besides that I'm really awkward and my speech is incredibly stilted.

I think anything that doesn't involve speaking in some way would be a waste of time.

I recommend:

Pimsleur audio CDs in the car on the way to and from work (unless this is the one you've tried and disliked). They are basic, but my pronunciation is getting better and I think they are very good at making you react by changing subjects/verb/genders quickly. I started off skipping every other lesson until I reached a point where I was hesitating too long. Lots of tourist-related vocabulary (directions, drinking/eating, shopping).

Anki flash cards are free and you can update them online or offline and sync it online. When I run into a new word or a word I've habitually forgotten AND it's a word I want to know, I put it in Anki. I use the flashcards from the web during my lunchbreaks. There's also a pricey iOS app that I haven't tried out yet.

For tutors, you can find them on Craigslist. You're looking at $25-45 an hour for a native speaker, often with experience in education. A lot of them are regular foreign language teachers. There's a number of websites tutors use to advertise their skills - I don't know them (Craigslist is really popular here) but they are definitely out there. You could always put up your own Craigslist post looking for Spanish speakers - either tutors or for mutual exchanges.

If you are in a big city, try meetup.com or google for "intercambios" where Spanish-English speakers get together to build up fluency.There's websites for language swaps via skype - Livemocha is one of them, and others have recommended some. If you lived in the same time zone, I'd offer mutual practice over skype myself

Seconding reading newspapers/magazines aloud. For a free alternative, narrate Wikipedia articles after switching the language to Spanish. Even better, look up Spanish-language wiki articles on the locations in Peru you want to visit, like Lima or Machu Picchu, and about tourism or travel (or cuisine or jungles, etc) in order to build your vocab in those subjects.
posted by subject_verb_remainder at 12:09 PM on July 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'm a Spanish teacher. I have a Spanish / English social network with video, voice, and text chat. You can practice your Spanish skills with us there if you like. There are always a number of Spanish speakers that want to practice their English and help others with their Spanish. You can find us at Nos Ayudamos The people on there are pretty nice and very helpful. Nos Ayudamos means "We help each other"

I also do some private tutoring online. I charge $10 to $20 per hour, depending on what kind of lessons you need. You can pay through PayPal. If you would like to give that a try, I'll give you the first session free to see if you like it. There is video, voice and text chat, along with a whiteboard in the virtual classroom that I have set up. The website that I use for that is A+ Spanish Tutor Online. You can find my contact information there.
posted by cherryb at 8:30 PM on July 19, 2012

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